Art for all in Harrogate

AFFORDABLE ART: One of photographer Ben Robson-Hull's prints.
AFFORDABLE ART: One of photographer Ben Robson-Hull's prints.
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An exhibition and fair in Harrogate this weekend will bring affordable original artwork to a wider audience. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Celebrity artists and art collectors may deal in obscene amounts of money but you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy a unique work of art – this weekend in Harrogate you could easily pick up an original contemporary artwork for a reasonable price at a new annual art fair and exhibition.

Organised by the team behind Cambridge Art Fair, HIVE (Harrogate International Visual Arts Expo) will include exhibitions from emerging artists, a programme of workshops and talks as well as a range of family activities. Presented in association with Artfinder, the online art marketplace for original, reasonably priced art, the event will be truly international – with artists and galleries exhibiting from all over the world – as well as featuring the work of Yorkshire artists such as printmaker Helen Peyton from Skipton, York-based painter David Cooper and Sheffield photographer Ben Robson-Hull.

In an age of generic artwork – when across, say, ten households, odds are that two will have exactly the same Ikea print on the kitchen wall – it’s good to know that original artwork can be affordable and available to all. This is something about which Jonas Almgren, Artfinder’s CEO since 2012, is passionate. “There is a lot of interest in buying art but people don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing it,” he says. “A lot of people feel that art is something they see in a museum or gallery and so they would rather buy a poster. We felt that we have millions of artists who have an art education and produce great work but have no way of reaching those art lovers. We want to create a bridge between the two – helping artists to sell their work, while for the buyers it doesn’t have to be expensive. And I think people feel something special when they own original art – you know the artist, you know the story, it’s much more interesting and it has lasting value. I’m not talking necessarily about a monetary value; it has a value to you.”

Almgren, who has been described as ‘a serial entrepreneur’, took a roundabout route to get to the position he is in today. Born in Stockholm, his father was an interior designer and he grew up surrounded by art but his career took him in a completely different direction for a while. As a computer scientist he spent 15 years in Silicon Valley before moving to New York and is now based in the UK.

“When I was in New York I started thinking about a way of combining my technology background with my passion for art,” he says. “What excited me about Artfinder was that it wasn’t trying to connect millionaire buyers with millionaire artists but average people with artists who may not be very well off. The difference between getting nothing for your art and getting a few hundred pounds is important – it validates what you are doing. We have had some wonderful feedback from artists saying things like ‘Artfinder changed my life’.”

Sheffield-based photographer Ben Robson-Hull, who will be exhibiting his work in Harrogate at the weekend, has showcased his work with Artfinder since 2013 and says it has been a wholly positive experience. “It has been fantastic – it’s made a huge difference to my business. When I joined I was just starting out and I was selling maybe one print a month, now I sell between four and eight a month.”

For the company’s first regional UK event, Almgren feels that Yorkshire was “a natural choice” after having run a couple of pop-up events in London.

“Yorkshire is a creative area and a very beautiful part of the UK,” he says. “There is an inspiring and active artistic community in Yorkshire, particularly in the visual arts and when we were approached by HIVE who suggested that we work together in Harrogate, we were very excited.

“Next year we will try and launch more pop-ups in the UK to try and reach an audience that’s maybe not comfortable buying online.”

HIVE (Harrogate International Visual Arts Expo) is at Harrogate International Centre, November 20-22. www.artfinder.com